Syrian Democratic Forces watch as a coalition airstrike hits its target on a known ISIS location near the Iraqi-Syrian border on May 13, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster)

Reintegrating ISIS Supporters in Syria: Efforts, Priorities and Challenges

Despite the significant degradation of ISIS’s military strength, the campaigns against them appear to be driven by a belief that physical victory equates to ISIS’s ideological defeat. Consequently, none of the primary actors in the anti-ISIS coalition have emphasized the potential benefits of rehabilitating captured ISIS members.

Drawing on first-hand interviews with experts and practitioners, all of whom have ‘on-the-ground’ experience in Syria, this paper seeks to describe the key priorities and challenges for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and rebel groups who are dealing with ISIS members; analyzes the community-led initiatives aiming to rehabilitate and reintegrate the members and communities that were exposed to ISIS’s ideology; and attempts to assess the impact of such efforts, identifying gaps and missed opportunities. This analysis would be the first of its kind in relation to the rehabilitation and reintegration efforts that are currently occurring in Syria.

While some of the dynamics that pressure locals to be affiliated with ISIS apply strictly to Syrians, other factors are similar in-part to the ones that drove thousands of foreign fighters to join the group. Such motivations include financial benefits, protection, military capacity and ideology. While it is not clear how many people fit each of these profiles, local experts argue that the majority of people joined ISIS for other reasons than ideology. Identifying and understanding such motives are important for both countering ISIS’s recruiting tactics and rehabilitating its supporters.

The international community and the countries fighting ISIS in Syria have a massive stake in ensuring the successful reintegration and rehabilitation of ISIS members. Ignoring such efforts will likely allow ISIS to use its ideology and propaganda to capitalize on the current insecurity, perpetuating instability in both Syria and the region as a whole.

Read the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation report 

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